The Story: A new survey finds that the pandemic has drawn some families closer together.
The Background: The American Family Survey (AFS) is a nationally representative survey of Americans sponsored by the Deseret News and Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy in connection with YouGov. The survey examines “Family Life During a Pandemic” and was taken between July 3 and 14, several months after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite the stress and disruption of the pandemic, many families seem to be flourishing and even growing closer during the time of hardship.
For example, more than half of Americans (54 percent) reported eating dinner together every day, while another one-in-four reported eating together weekly (10 percent) or a few times per week (18 percent). About four-in-10 say they worship together as a family weekly (21 percent), once a month (7 percent), a few times a week (7 percent), or daily (7 percent).
Almost half of Americans (48 percent) say that their marriage or relationship is about the same as two years ago, while another 43 percent say it is stronger. Similarly, more than half (53 percent) say their family relationships are about the same, while 30 percent say they are even stronger today. More than two-thirds say they are somewhat (31 percent) or completely (44 percent) satisfied with their family.
About one-in-three reported that the current level of tension between members of their household was less than average (13 percent) or much less than average (19 percent). A majority said it was the same as average (52 percent).
A majority (57 percent) say that having their children at home has made them feel better/more secure about their well-being. Nearly 40 percent say they have become more likely to consider homeschooling their kids in the future.
About two-thirds of parents said their daughters were doing very well (51 percent) or somewhat well (26 percent) in the area of family relationships, while a similar percentage of parents found their sons were doing very well (46 percent) or somewhat well (28 percent).
About a third of parents believe churches have served their sons very well (22 percent) or somewhat well (14 percent), while a similar percentage of parents found churches serving their daughters very well (25 percent) or somewhat well (16 percent).
When asked about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their marriage/relationship, a majority agreed (36 percent) or strongly agreed (20 percent) that it has made them appreciate their partner more; only 10 percent disagreed.
A near majority (47 percent) also agreed the pandemic has deepened their commitment to their marriage/relationship, and a similar number disagreed that that the pandemic has increased stress in their marriage/relationship. A solid majority (62 percent) also say the pandemic has not caused them to question the strength of their marriage/relationship.
When asked if their thoughts about divorce, separation, or breaking up have changed since the coronavirus pandemic began, 84 percent said there was no change, and 8 percent said they were less likely to divorce. Only 2 percent said they did divorce, separate, or break up, and 6 percent said it was more likely.
What It Means: The pandemic has been deeply destructive and has forced many Americans to radically change the way they live, often for the worse. Yet despite enduring extended periods of hardship, many families are drawing closer together and developing positive patterns of behavior. A prime example is the number of families sharing an evening meal together.
Eating meals together as a family has been shown to be inversely associated with disordered eating, alcohol and substance use, violent behavior, and feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide. There is also a positive relationship between frequent family meals and increased self-esteem and commitment to learning or a higher grade point average. Other research has found that children who routinely eat meals together with their family are more likely to experience long-term physical and mental health benefits. “From a population-health perspective, our findings suggest that family meals have long-term influences on children’s physical and mental well-being,” says Marie-Josée Harbec of the Université de Montréal.
But there is a factor that can be even more important for bringing families closer than eating together: praying together.
Unfortunately, according to the survey, only 11 percent of Americans say they pray together as a couple, outside of meals every day, while another one-in-five say they do so weekly (10 percent) or a few times a week (8 percent). A near majority never prays together. If couples don’t pray with each other, they are less likely to be praying with their children either.
Why does it matter if families pray together? Research has shown that prayer may be the most important spiritual practice in relational success. In his book Soul Mates, University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox finds, “Latino and black couples who attend church together enjoy significantly happier relationships, in large part . . . because they pray with one another.” Glenn Stanton, director of global family formation studies at Focus on the Family, also points to a 2015 study that found husbands and wives praying together for each other individually and offering forgiveness for personal offenses has “significant positive” effects on marriage overall.
“It helps them deal with the troubles that naturally arise in marriage,” Stanton says, “making them both accountable to God, who tells us not to hang onto past hurts and to sacrificially love and forgive others.” Stanton adds,
Prayer not only invites God into the relationship at times of unhappiness and struggle, but also helps the couple become more intimate and concerned with one another. Regularly sharing one’s thoughts with God in the presence of another is extremely intimate, perhaps rivaled only by physical intimacy. It binds people together. They both require great transparency and trust, enhancing the marital relationship.
In 1947, a young ad copywriter popularized the slogan, “The family that prays together stays together.” There’s biblical truth embedded in that message, since as Jesus promised, “For where two or three have gathered together in my name, I am there in their midst” (Matt. 18:20). Our families are likely to grow stronger when we eat, pray, and love together, knowing Jesus is in our midst.